Influenza (flu) is one of the most common and contagious illnesses of the winter season. Your case of the flu may be mild or it may be severe. In some cases, the flu can even cause death. The best way to avoid the flu is with the flu vaccine.
Flu versus cold
It may be hard to tell the difference between a mild flu and a bad cold. If you get the flu, you may experience symptoms such as:
- Body aches
- Sinus drainage
- Sore throat
- Stuffy nose
Your doctor can do a simple test of your nasal secretions to determine if you have the flu. If your symptoms are caused by the flu virus, you will need to stay away from others until you are symptom free, to avoid passing the flu virus. The flu is especially dangerous for young children and older adults. Those with health issues like asthma or diabetes are also at heightened risk of complications.
The best way to protect against seasonal flu and potentially severe complications from the flu is to get the flu vaccine. Some myths surrounding the flu vaccine include:
“The flu shot will give me symptoms of
The flu shot works by exposing your body to a small amount of dead flu virus. Your body’s immune system will then create new antibodies to protect you from the active flu virus. Some people may experience some soreness at the injection site and some may experience minor aches or a low-grade fever, however, the flu virus in the vaccine cannot give you the flu because it is made of dead cells.
“I had the flu shot last year, so it will prevent me from getting the flu this year.”
Every year the strains of the flu change. The flu vaccine you receive each year is carefully formulated to guard against the most likely strains of flu virus that will be spread this year. Even if you had the shot last year, it will not protect you from this year’s strains. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends getting a flu shot each year.
“I’m allergic to eggs so I can’t have the flu shot.”
It’s true that if you have an egg allergy, you need to take precautions when receiving the flu vaccine. However, it does not mean you cannot get a flu shot. The flu vaccine contains a very small amount of egg protein. If your egg allergy is mild, you can have the flu shot and your doctor may wish to observe you for up to 30 minutes afterward. If your allergy is severe, talk to your doctor about other options, including a two-dose flu vaccine and desensitizing methods.
Surviving flu season
The flu is caused by a virus, which means that antibiotics will not make you feel better and cannot cure the flu. However, that doesn’t mean you have to sit around and suffer. If you get the flu, antiviral drugs may help shorten the time you are sick and/or reduce your flu symptoms.
Home treatment for the flu will also help ease your symptoms, including:
- Drinking plenty of fluids
- Getting plenty of rest
- Treating pain and discomfort with over-the-counter medicine such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen
Balance, HCR ManorCare's comprehensive health and wellness blog, supplies readers with healthy ideas throughout the year. The blog is designed to serve as a resource, not only for patients, residents and families, but for anyone who strives to live a healthy, "balanced" life. For more information and help making healthy choices, go to balance.hcr-manorcare.com. If you need help making a health care decision, visit our CareFinder and live chat.